THE ORIGINAL SURVIVORS: FROM ASHES
The Original Survivors: From Ashes is copyright © 2017 Dell Sweet. All rights foreign and domestic reserved in their entirety.
Cover Art © Copyright 2017 Wendell Sweet
Some text copyright 2010, 2014, 2015 Wendell Sweet
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This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
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From Ashes They Will Come
“This was all me,” Mike said as they stood just inside the shattered front windows of the supermarket. The large piles of debris he had pulled out of his way as he searched through the rubble seemed to frame the dark opening that led into the interior of the store, piled high on either side of the twisted steel frames. They formed a dark, forbidding tunnel.
“Maybe it’s a little worse for wear and tear from the rain and the last earthquake.” He looked around and shook his head. “Maybe not though. It doesn’t look any worse at all. Doesn’t look like the rain got in.”
The smell was strong though. It made Mike wish he had removed the bodies the last time he had been there. Patty, Candace and Ronnie all had faces on, wrinkled noses, squinting eyes, partially turned away from the darkened tunnel and the aisles that were barely visible in the gloom.
“It’s pretty bad,” Ronnie said.
Mike simply nodded.
“I shopped here a few times,” Candace said. “I know the basic layout.” She looked to the left then to the right. “Mostly canned vegetables, canned soups, stews, that sort of thing?” She pointed to an area Mike had cleared out.
“Yeah,” Mike agreed, impressed. “I was trying to remember which way to go.” All three of the others were nodding in understanding.
“Patty, did you and Ronnie come here? I think we want to go to the left. I think the next aisle is paper goods, utensils stuff like that.” Candace said.
“A few times,” Ronnie elaborated.
“All the time,” Patty added. “He doesn’t like to shop if I remember correctly.”
Ronnie laughed. “Pizza delivery for Two C,” he said and laughed. Then, “yeah, it was easier to get something on the way home, have a pizza delivered. I think my refrigerator had two or three boxes with leftover pizza, and a couple of six packs… maybe an old jar of Mayo.” He looked apologetic.
“Stuff’ll kill you,” Mike said.
“Yeah. Yeah, but it tastes good,” Ronnie laughed.
Patty rolled her eyes. “Yeah… Paper stuff… Toilet tissue. Some medications, gadgets, you know, like little can openers, oven timers.”
They all looked at each other.
“Good a place as any to start,” Ronnie said. They all nodded and started to work clearing the debris from the front of the aisle, piling it outside the shattered front windows.
Everyone wore heavy gloves to protect themselves from all the broken glass and brick, so the work went quickly. They had pulled the trucks as close to the front of the building as they could, so once they reached the aisle it was easy to retrieve and load what they chose to keep right into the trucks.
Moving the debris that blocked the aisles went much faster with three extra pairs of hands. In no time at all they had progressed down the aisles and were nearing the back wall of the supermarket.
“The end,” Patty said, thinking out loud, “Breads, Cakes, fresh produce…”
“I think so,” Candace agreed.
The closer they got to the back of the store the stronger the odor of corruption became.
“Bad,” Patty said.
“Yeah… I think that’s lunch meat… Produce…”
“The butcher shop is back there also,” Ronnie said.
“Storage?” Candace asked.
“Probably where Lilly got the corn. She probably used the back door though,” Mike said.
They had already come across two bodies as they had dug their way through the aisles. Rather than leave them there as Mike had done, they had dragged them out of the market and covered them with a tarp at the front of the store. Despite that, the store didn’t smell any better than it had. Rats, mice, and bugs had infested the market.
“Both the Suburbans are packed. The pickup nearly is,” Ronnie said.
“Yeah,” Mike said. “I’m thinking, what else is there here that we could need?”
“Duh,” Patty said and smacked her forehead with an open palm. “Hang on. Follow me,” she turned and walked down to the destroyed front window area and stepped out into the bright sunlight. The others followed, stopping to blink their eyes rapidly in the overly bright sunlight. Slowly adjusting after so long inside the dark interior.
Patty made her way along the front of the store, in the same direction they had been walking inside. Just about twenty feet from the end of the store a single steel door rested.
“The back door,” Patty said. “It used to be a drug store, but when it was closed the supermarket snapped up the lease on that space. They took out the front windows and bricked it all up, put in this steel door unit. We can get into the back storage area from here. That’s what they used it for, more storage. I remember reading about it in the paper. One of those days when I was so bored I read every story in the paper.” She laughed. “You know, in a small town, everything’s a big story.”
Ronnie looked over the handle with its inset lock. “This can’t be the way Lilly got in,” he said.
“No,” Candace agreed. “There’s a whole different warehouse area at the absolute back of the store. Different area.”
Ronnie nodded. “I don’t know if it wouldn’t still be easier to go through from the inside though.” He looked over the door. “That’s a steel jamb. And that,” He pointed down at the inset lock, “Is probably a deadbolt. It’s going to be tough to get opened easily.”
Mike left, walked to the Suburban and came back a few seconds later with a massive sledge hammer and a long heavy crow bar. He set the end of the crowbar into the steel jamb at the place were the lock-set was. He tapped it lightly a few times to wedge it into the door. After the easy taps he swung hard twice, driving the heavy bar into the door. The door easily dented inward, the lock-set pieces flying out onto the concrete of the sidewalk as he drove the end of the heavy crowbar home.
The door itself bent out of the frame with a soft squeal of metal.
Mike started forward into the small circle of light when the odor from inside the space suddenly leapt out to assault him. At the same time, a distinct sound reached his ears, the sound of dozens of buzzing flies. Mike moved back quicker than he had thought to and nearly tripped over the others as he did.
Ronnie stepped forward, snagged what was left of the door and pushed it shut. The broken lock mechanism jammed in the steel door unit and held it closed.
Ronnie’s face was gray. Sweat popped out along his brow. He had seen dozens of bodies inside, just within the small perimeter of light that had come through the open doorway, and what looked to be dozens more just beyond in the shadows.
“Jesus,” he managed as he quickly made his way past the others, around the side of the building, away from the odor. He almost kept his breakfast down, but as the picture of the devastation inside replayed in his head, he lost the brief struggle. He came back after a few minutes.
Everyone had walked further down what was left of the sidewalk, away from the door. His face was still pale, but he felt marginally better.
“All right,” Patty asked as she rested the back of her wrist against his forehead. Her eyes were worried.
“Better,” Ronnie said. “I just wasn’t prepared for that. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
“Looked like they were stuck in there,” Candace said.
“Except they could’ve just knocked the lock off like we did.” Mike’s eyes met Ronnie’s. They had both been close to the door as it opened and they had both seen the same things. Weapons scattered everywhere. There had been some sort of battle in there.
“What?” Candace asked. She looked at Ronnie.
“Looked like a lot of weapons just lying around by the bodies…like maybe a gunfight took place and then the ceiling caved in. But they were dead before that… shot for some reason. Shot each other?” He looked over at Mike.
“Maybe,” Mike allowed. “Or shot and then whoever did it just shut and locked the door and walked away.” He shrugged helplessly.
“Well, they must have killed each other,” Patty said.
“Maybe,” Ronnie said. “But like Mike said…” He shrugged too. “Some weapons looked like they might have been thrown in on top of them… It doesn’t fit.”
Candace looked from Mike to Ronnie, a look of disbelief on her face. She glanced back down at the door, back at Mike once more, then spun and walked back down to the door.
“Candace,” Mike called. He started after her, but she reached the door and tugged it open before he reached her. “You don’t,” he started.
She drew in a short breath; her hands came up and cupped her nose and mouth. Her legs were planted firmly, her posture rigid. “It’s true,” she mumbled through her hands. Mike leaned past her shoulder and took a closer look at the room.
There were many more bodies than his first quick look had shown him. The weapons were lying on top of the bodies, as though they had been shot and then someone had tossed the weapons into the room, shut the door and walked away. Just as it had seemed to both he and Ronnie in their first short view.
What hadn’t appeared in their first short view were the other things that were, at first, not readily seen.
They had, every one, been shot in the head. But that was not the only thing. It was the way some people’s hands weren’t showing. That in itself didn’t actually register for a few seconds until he realized no one’s hands were showing. Then his eyes took in the bodies in more detail than his eyes had wanted to provide, and he realized the reason their hands were not showing was because they were behind their backs.
He saw two people that answered the why of that. Bright glimpses of metal showed between the bloated skin of their wrists. Handcuffed… His mind had supplied tied, but it was not tied, it was handcuffed. And handcuffed was not a mistake. Handcuffed could not shoot back at all. They had been herded in here, for whatever reason, handcuffed and shot… Murdered, his mind supplied.
“Come on,” he said quietly to Candace. “We don’t need to see any more of this do we?”
She shook her head, turned back towards him, and then suddenly found herself running around the side of the building the same way that Ronnie had. A few minutes later, she came back out and joined the others. Everyone was silent. The morning had moved on and the afternoon was bright sunshine and warmth on the cracked sidewalk, but none of that warmth seemed able to touch her.
“Probably never know why,” Ronnie said after a long silence. He spun the cap off a bottle of water, took a deep drink, rinsed his mouth, spat and then drank again. They were all gathered around the trucks.
Mike stared off down what was left of State Street. The street itself was more dirt and sand than pavement. The buildings that were left tilted crazily. Some looked almost untouched until you got close to them. From here they looked fine, just like from the sidewalk the steel door hadn’t seemed to be hiding anything special, his mind jabbered.
“There’s another drug store up the street,” he said, just to be talking. “I didn’t check it. I wasn’t thinking about it. It’s an actual drug store… So I was thinking what could there be there that I would need. But drugstores sell all sorts of things. We could go see.”
“Let’s go see,” Patty said.
They all piled into the trucks like they had only been looking for an excuse to go. As they drove away, Mike knew he would never come back to the supermarket for anything. Silence held as they maneuvered their way over the shattered pavement and made their way down the street…
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